Tuesday, February 3, 2009

You Can Be the Next John Grisham

Well, no, not really.

My name is Liz, and I’m a dog in the manager.

If you don’t know what that means, look it up. A wide knowledge base is an absolute must for a writer, even if it’s focused on a niche. Part of my job here will be to focus on some of the misinformation circulating about—and from—the subsidy presses.

Let’s start with that. They will tell you that if you sign up with them, you’re self-publishing. Unless you’ve purchased your own ISBN and done all the pre-press work yourself or (preferably, unless you’re a professional graphic artist) hired someone to do it for you, you aren’t self-published. You’re subsidy published, and the industry pejorative for that is “vanity published.” This is a fact, and arguing about it till the 2012 apocalypse won’t make it not true.

One of the biggest scams the subsidy presses have going is this: let us print your book and you can then use it to attract the attention of a traditional publisher. They then take your money and provide you with a trade paperback.

They’ll mention the names of famous authors who started their lucrative career by having their self-published book picked up by a publisher. What they leave out is that 1 in 100,000 are lousy odds--and that those authors worked their butts off hand-selling those books out of the trunks of their cars for months and even years before the miracle happened.

I know this because as Zumaya’s acquisitions editor (along with every other editorial function), I receive these books as submissions in place of the electronic files our guidelines specifically call for.The most recent one is, as are most such efforts, poorly designed and barely edited. Oh, it’s essentially clean as far as typos and punctuation and such, but had this book been presented to a professional editor he or she would have guided the author so what is probably a very compelling personal story actually comes through as such.

But...but...but...

The cover letter accompanying this volume tells me the book is “unpublished.” Except it’s not. It has an ISBN--an international standard book number--which means it can be added into bookseller databases. It has a Library of Congress Control Number, which means the title is registered with the U.S. Library of Congress. I didn’t check, but it’s also probably listed in Books in Print.

There is no way I or any other publisher is going to offer a contract for this book, because we know from bitter past experience that reprints, unless the author is Stephen King or Nora Roberts, don’t sell. And given the majority of books sell fewer than 100 copies as a general rule, we are certainly not going to consider a niche book by an unknown author that’s probably already either been purchased by all the author’s friends and relatives who are going to buy it or given out as a freebie to everyone likely to be interested.

Because, see, that’s what the subsidy presses tell you to do. Let them print your book, then you buy X copies and send them out to people who might give you a good review and to publishers, who will be so impressed by the book they’ll jump at the chance to take it on.

Not gonna happen, folks. And the subsidy press has made their pile from the fee you paid to get the book printed and all those copies you bought to send out, so they couldn’t care less.

If your goal is to have your book picked up by a regular publisher, do not fall for this nonsense. The only way to get on the good side of a regular publisher is to learn how to write a good, concise query letter, have a professional-caliber manuscript ready to send if requested and read their guidelines. As we speak, there are 700 queries in my submissions queue, and new ones arrive at the rate of 1-5 a day. That number increases exponentially with the size of the publisher. I have no time to mess with people who can’t do me the courtesy of reading our guidelines and following the procedure contained there.

And I’m not going to read the subsidy published book you’ve sent me instead of the query and synopsis I ask for. Neither will any other publisher. And the press that talked you into this has already made their pile, so they're good. Only one left out in the cold is...you.

3 comments:

Kristen said...

There is no way I or any other publisher is going to offer a contract for this book, because we know from bitter past experience that reprints, unless the author is Stephen King or Nora Roberts, don’t sell.

Or Frank Daniels or Dave Eggers.

The thing is, Stephen King was just some writer before he became Stephen King. As was Nora Roberts.

A writer is a writer is a writer.

I agree it's shady for subsidy publishers to sell authors on their company by claiming it will help them find a real publisher, but this post is fairly discouraging to good writers with good books (they do exist) who have tried the agent/publisher route and have been unsuccessful (often because the agent/publisher doesn't believe enough money can be made off the work as fast as they want it because the work isn't as commercial as the work that sells fast to an easily identifiable market).

Every now and then, a publisher will take a previously self-published book. For every self-published author to expect they will be that person is unrealistic - just as it's unrealistic for every person in every field to believe they will be the best at it. It's just not possible.

But there are plenty who are that good, and that determined, and who will benefit from self-publishing work that wasn't picked up by a mainstream publisher.

True Fiction said...

I looked up "dog in the manager" but all i could find was "dog in the manger."

Henry said...

"The only way to get on the good side of a regular publisher is to learn how to write a good, concise query letter, have a professional-caliber manuscript ready to send if requested and read their guidelines."

OK, and what are you supposed to do if you go through that process and still nothing happens. Your odds for getting published after self-publishing aren't much worse than the odds of getting published traditionally. I agree, it doesn't make a lot of sense to submit to small presses immediately after putting a book out yourself, but you make it sound like there's no reason to self-publish regardless.

Publishers will take a look at self-published books if the book has made some kind of impact - because if it's able to make an impact via the uphill battle of self-publishing it carries some weight beyond another manuscript sitting on a desk.